Butternut Squash Braise…and Soup…and Seeds

Chef Rosa showed us a delicious recipe for braised squash last week and I tried it twice at home with poor results. I spoke with her and decided to try once again…

Braised Squash

Braising is a method of slow cooking a tougher food product until it softens, but it’s done without using a lot of liquid, which could dilute the flavors. You need to use a moderately high temperature and cover the cooking vessel so that the liquid doesn’t evaporate. In this case, I used a cast iron, enameled skillet with a very heavy lid.

Below: The victim.

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Below: Applying dry heat to your ingredients before cooking is a key step in a lot of recipes. This could mean toasting spices or browning tofu or darkening up your vegetables — in a hot oven, a dry saucepan, or an oiled skillet. In this case, browning the squash and apples concentrates some of the flavor into a fond, the dark bits at the bottom of a pan. And what do you do with that delicious, concentrated fond….?

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Below: …You de-glaze! Often, this is done with wine. The liquid helps you dissolve the flavorful bits and scape them off the pan. Wine is also very flavorful, a bit sweet, and acidic, all of which contribute to the final flavor.

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Below: The browned squash returns to the skillet with the wine and some stock. I tossed in a bit of rosemary, thyme, and sage. Into the oven at 375 degrees for 22 minutes.

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Below: Post braise. I returned the pan to the stove top and reduced the stock further a bit, which was a suggestion by Chef Rosa. You can see the liquid has reduced.

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Squash Soup

I had a few pieces of squash left over from the oven braise, so I figured I’d make a scratch soup. I only had enough squash for one serving, but why waste it?

Here’s what I put together, roughly doubled in case you want to try at home and share with one other person:

Two large handfuls of squash cubes, skinned
Light-flavored vegetable stock (I would guess about 1.5 cups to start with)
A few cubes of apple
3″ piece of fresh rosemary
3 sprigs of thyme
1 leaf of sage
salt and pepper to taste

Simmer the stock hard (it will be giving off a steady steam) until it reduces by 30% or so. If you don’t have time for this, just use 1 cup of stock instead of 1.5 cups.

I reduced the stock a bit by simmering heavily for 10-20 minutes, braised the squash and apple in a saucepan using the stock (I could have browned the squash first in oil, but didn’t) with the herbs until it was soft, mashed the squash up, added more stock to achieve a nice consistency, and salted/peppered to taste. The result was a sweet and thick, squashy, herby soup, with a rustic appearance because I used a potato masher to soften the squash and I did not wrap the herbs in cheesecloth – I just tossed them in. Also, there were some dark orange bits from the center of the squash that lent some color. Overall, a lovely dish to look at.

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I also toasted the squash seeds in a pan on the stovetop while the squash braised. They taste quite a bit like peanuts, and they’d make an excellent garnish for the soup, with perhaps a few leaves of herbs.

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Getting Saucy in Week Two

Week two has started and we have begun to cook!

So far this week we’ve cooked some stocks and sauces. Stocks are essentially water simmered with vegetables and aromatic herbs and spices. For those so inclined, stocks may also include animal bones and other parts. The water is imparted with flavor and the resulting stock is used to make soups, sauces, or in other cooking applications.

Below: Chef Rosa shows us three completed stocks of varying colors, which come from the ways the stocks were prepared and/or the ingredients used.

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Below: Chef Rosa demonstrates assembling a sachet of herbs for a stock. This image is from the demo portion of our day. Each day is divided into two parts, a demonstration (“demo”) half and a lab half. The lab half is where we cook and the demo half is mostly observing.

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Below: I decided to try making a stock at home to complement a potato soup I made, so I simmered 2 quarts of water with leeks, onion, and garlic. Here’s the stock cooling in an ice bath.

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Below: Chef Alex doing a quick demo before our lab on sauces. After the introduction to a lab session, the instructor turns us loose on our recipe(s) for that lab session, walking around and providing guidance as needed.

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Below: Mmm…some minced onion sauteing nicely.

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Below: Team dashi slicing mushrooms.

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Below: The mushroom jus was one of my favorites from the sauces lab day (Tuesday) – rich with tender and earthy mushrooms. The foundation of this was the good mushroom stock made the day prior.

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Below: A terrific salsa verde (parsley and walnut, in this case) and roasted red pepper coulis. Both had colorful and enticing presentations.

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Below: Dishes pile up in the kitchen. We take turns doing the dishes, but everyone in the kitchen is responsible for various aspects of cleanup after a lab session.

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Below: A tasting after the demonstration on sauces. Chef Rosa prepared several sauces including bechamel and hollandaise for tasting. Sauces were a bit of a bummer for me because they typically contain either butter (dairy) or wheat (gluten), both of which seem to give me trouble. Nevertheless, Chef Rosa showed us versions without dairy and I’m optimistic about learning more about gluten-free sauce options. 

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Below: Just for fun, a lovely and delicious chocolate made by my classmate Kim Gallogly.

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